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Motion Sickness  
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Motion Sickness
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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

HealthMany of us can recall that familiar feeling from childhood. You're riding in the backseat of a car, there is very little air circulation, and suddenly, your stomach starts to turn on you. You become nauseous and break out in a cold sweat. If you were lucky, you were able to warn your mother or father quickly enough and there was time to pull over, stop, and let you escape the confines of the car for some fresh air and a chance to calm your stomach. For those who weren't so lucky, a messy and embarrassing result usually followed—and the journey still wasn't over! That experience, whether as a child or an adult, is an example of carsickness—more commonly referred to as motion sickness. Although it doesn't effect everyone, it is a common condition. Let's examine its causes, and provide some tips for helping those who suffer from it.

Motion sickness takes a number of forms and may also be called car sickness, sea sickness, and air sickness. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), motion sickness is a common problem effecting people who travel by car, airplane, train, boat, or those who ride amusement park rides. It can even be brought on by something as simple as anything that goes around in circles at the neighborhood playground. The Mayo Clinic adds that motion sickness can strike suddenly, quickly progressing from a queasy, uneasy stomach to a cold sweat, dizziness, and, ultimately, vomiting. In most instances, motion sickness subsides as soon as the motion stops—but by then, the damage has been done. Those who are prone to motion sickness may even develop a fear and/or anxiety that can make their motion sickness even worse.

Just what causes motion sickness? The Nemours Foundation summarizes how your brain and body come together to process the way you feel movement:

Your inner ears—Liquid in the semicircular canals of the inner ear allows you to sense if you are moving, and, if you are, which way you're moving—up, down, side-to-side, around, and around, forward, or backward.

Your eyes—What you see is an important factor in letting your body know whether you're moving and in what direction.

Your skin receptors—These receptors relay information to your brain about which parts of your body are touching the ground.

Your muscles and joint sensory receptors—These sensing receptors tell your brain if you're moving your muscles and the position of your body.

The brain continually gets instant feed back from all of these different parts and sensors on your body and constantly tries to assemble a total picture of exactly what you are doing at any particular moment. However, if any of the pieces in the picture don't match, you develop motion sickness. The Nemours Foundation describes the following situation where motion sickness may develop:

If you are riding in a car and reading a book, your inner ears and skin receptors will detect that you are moving forward. However, your eyes are focused on a book that isn't moving, and your muscles receptors are telling your brain that you are sitting still. As a result your brain becomes confused and when this happens, you may begin to feel very tired, dizzy, and/or sick to your stomach. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) notes the most common signs and symptoms of motion sickness as follows:

  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Increased salivation
  • Nausea
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Vomiting

Additionally, the following serve as risk factors for developing motion sickness:

  • Heightened level of fear or anxiety
  • Poor ventilation in the vehicle
  • Riding in an airplane, boat, car, or other moving object
  • Susceptibility to nausea or vomiting
  • Sitting in the back seat where you cannot see out of the window
  • Young age—children aged 2 to 12 are the most likely to develop motion sickness

Although there are both over-the-counter and prescription medications that, when taken in advance, can help lessen the likelihood of motion sickness, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following tips to help avoid developing motion sickness:

When traveling, reserve seats where motion is felt the least:

  • Airplane—Ask for a seat over the front edge of a wing. Once onboard, direct the air vent flow to your face.
  • Automobile—Either drive or sit in the front passenger's seat.
  • Boat or ship—Request a cabin in the front or middle of the ship, or on the upper deck.
  • Train—Take a seat near the front and next to a window, facing forward.


  • Avoid spicy and greasy foods and alcohol.
  • Don't overeat.
  • Don't smoke or sit near smokers.
  • Focus on the horizon or on a distant, stationary object.
  • Don't read.
  • Keep your head still by resting it against a seat back.
  • Eat crackers or drink a carbonated beverage to help calm your stomach if you become ill.

Medications to prevent motion sickness should be discussed with your family physician. Although many have been proven to be helpful, some are not recommended for children and others may cause drowsiness and impair judgment. Some people have found relief from motion sickness by wearing pressure bracelets available at pharmacies and drugstores. The bands include built-in buttons that apply acupressure to the inside of the wrist, and have been said to help relieve nausea.

As a parent, you know that even the best attempts at prevention can sometimes fail. For that reason, monitor any child that is with you and, if you notice any of the tell-tale motion sickness signs, stop the motion as soon as possible and allow the child time to be still and settle his or her stomach. Make adjustments to the situation for the rest of the journey and you will help avoid an embarrassing incident and make sure everyone has an uneventful trip!

As with any health-related issues, consult with your family physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your specific situation.

National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health—
Mayo Clinic—
Nemours Foundation—
University of Maryland Medical Center—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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